Can Russell Wilson, Seahawks Shake Lambeau Blues?
RENTON - Refusing to let anything distract him from the task at hand at Lincoln Financial Field, Russell Wilson avoided being occupied by the result of Sunday’s other NFC wild-card contest in New Orleans.
According to Wilson, he wasn’t even aware the Vikings pulled off the upset over the Saints until moments after the Seahawks wrapped up a 17-9 win over the Eagles, claiming NBC reporter Michele Tafoya had to break the news to him that his team would travel to Green Bay to face the No. 2 seed Packers in the divisional round.
“To go back to Wisconsin, that’s another home for me,” Wilson smiled. “To go back there is going to be great, it’s going to be cold, [and] it’s going to be snowy most likely. But it will be fun. We will prepare and get ready for that, and study the film and get ready to roll.”
While Wilson capped off an illustrious college career leading Wisconsin to an 11-win season, a Big Ten championship and a trip to the Rose Bowl, his return visits to the “Badger State” since breaking into the NFL in 2012 have been anything but fun.
In fact, playing in Green Bay has been a nightmare for Seattle for two decades, as the franchise has lost eight straight at Lambeau Field and hasn't won there since 1999.
Squaring off against Aaron Rodgers in Titletown, Wilson has yet to win at Lambeau Field, most recently struggling through a 17-9 defeat to open the 2017 season. In three road losses at Green Bay, he’s completed just 57 percent of his pass attempts, thrown six interceptions and posted a pedestrian 60.4 passer rating.
To put those numbers in perspective, per Pro Football Reference, Wilson has thrown nearly 10 percent of his 68 career regular-season interceptions at Lambeau in just three games.
Despite his prior experience playing in the cold in Madison, Wilson endured arguably his worst performance in the league during a 38-10 loss to the Packers in December 2016.
Ambushed by an aggressive Green Bay defense in the frigid cold, Wilson was hit nine times and sacked three times. Falling behind by three scores at halftime forced Seattle to largely abandon running the football and the quarterback was picked off three times in the second half, finishing with five interceptions for the first and only time of his career.
In Wilson’s defense, several of those interceptions weren’t necessarily his fault. His first pick was on target to Jimmy Graham, but the tight end fell, allowing Morgan Burnett to jump the route. Early in the third quarter, a missed pass interference penalty prevented Jermaine Kearse from catching the football and Quinton Rollins hauled in the deflection in the end zone.
Trailing 21-3 midway through the third, the normally reliable Doug Baldwin wasn’t able to secure an accurate throw from Wilson on a hitch and the ball caromed into Damarious Randall’s hands for yet another interception.
It remains unclear why Wilson and the Seahawks have struggled so much offensively against the Packers on the road. Some of it can be chalked up to simply playing in a hostile environment, while the weather was a significant factor in the lopsided loss two years ago and the cold conditions may have affected his ability to throw the football downfield.
“I don’t think you can connect a fan base with your team any tighter than you can do it there,” coach Pete Carroll said about the challenges of playing in Green Bay. “They do a great job of knowing how to be a factor. Then there’s conditions too that go along with it… You just have to adjust when you’re there.”
Both teams have changed dramatically since that matchup three years ago. Baldwin, Kearse and Graham are no longer in Seattle and Brian Schottenheimer has taken over as offensive coordinator, while Green Bay has undergone drastic personnel changes in the secondary and along the defensive line with a new head coach roaming the sidelines.
Though Wilson has struggled back in his old stomping grounds, statistical evidence indicates he could have better success this time around, especially if his receivers do a better job finishing catches.
While the Packers rank third in the NFL in interceptions (17) and ninth in passes defensed (87), they’ve also been susceptible to allowing explosive pass plays, which could be advantageous for the Seahawks. Defensive coordinator Mike Pettine’s unit has surrendered 15 pass plays of 40 yards or more, second-worst behind only the Raiders this season.
Widely respected as one of the best deep-ball passers in the league today with receivers Tyler Lockett and DK Metcalf on the outside, Wilson completed 10 passes of 40-plus yards in the regular season. He also found Metcalf for a 53-yard score on a post route in Sunday’s win over Philadelphia.
Unlike the wild-card round, Seattle should be confident about its chances of being able to complement Wilson with an effective ground game as well. Green Bay ranked 21st in the NFL in rushing yardage allowed per game (120.1) and allowed opponents to rush for 4.7 yards per carry this season.
The best news for Wilson and his teammates? Weather forecasts in the Midwest should be viewed as "subject to change" by the hour, but as of now, Wilson's projection of snow is only at a 40 percent chance with temperatures in the upper 20s. It could be far worse.
If Wilson can handle whatever elements are thrown his way, the offensive line manages to provide decent protection for him, and the run game finds a rhythm, the star quarterback should have a prime opportunity to snap his personal losing streak and help the Seahawks end a 20-year drought at Lambeau Field.